Travel costs for ASTCA board members draw questions from lawmakers
Close to $200,000 is allocated for ASTCA board members to travel to meetings and conferences — while only $88,000 is allocated for training of employees — was an issue raised by several lawmakers during the budget hearing for ASTCA, where CEO Moefa’auo Bill Emmsley testified.
According to the proposed budget for ASTCA, for board members to attend the trainings held in Texas, the airfare for all nine members is $40,500 with per diems of $58,500 for seven days. The calculation is that each board member receives $8,357.14 for the trip. For all three meetings/conferences, the total allocation is $184,500.
The travel allocated for the CEO’s travel to attend meetings and conferences is $35,500 for meetings in Hawai’i, Nevada, Texas and Ohio. According to the budget book ASTCA’s entire budget is $16 Million, including an increase of one million from last year’s $15.0 million budget.
The question was first raised by Tualauta Representatives Larry Sanitoa and Florence Vaili Saulo and Eastern District Rep Pulelei’ite Tufele Jr as to why the travel for board members is so much higher than the travel allocated for employees to attend trainings.
CEO Moefa’auo explained to lawmakers that this proposed budget was already in place before his time, however he will advise board members on this issue.
He noted that he’s looking into bringing the trainers on island, which will save the government money — given that if all the employees travel to attend these trainings it will be more costly.
Another point touched upon was regarding employee increments, and the CEO explained that he’s proposed to have annual increments for the employees especially since they are entitled to them.
According to ASTCA’s proposed budget, maintenance of the telephone services and internet services in Manu’a and Swains Island totals $358,900 for the year.
According to the budget, per year, for Manu’a, it costs $14,400 to send digital switch technicians to Manu’a every two months to perform routine maintenance and repairs for three employees for approximately ten days, while it costs $30,000 to send five linemen over every two months to check conditions and report defects in distribution of cables both overhead and underground, which takes about 10 days. The airfares amount to $10,000 with $20,000 for per diem for the year.
Sending over digital technicians to Swains Island every four-five months to conduct routine maintenance and repairs to the remote satellite terminal and power system for two employees, in a period of five days is $6,500, where $2,500 is for airfare and $4,000 is for per diem for the year.
ASTCA is also asking for $1million to increase the broadband capacity in support of the BLAST project via acquiring the use of low orbit satellites (O3b).
The project will supplement capacity currently being received from ASH Cable and will also serve as a back-up route. This will include installation of a dish in Manu’a as a third redundancy, increasing Manua’s communication capabilities.
For improving ASTCA’s outdated territory-wide cellular systems, where there are a high number of dropped and incomplete calls due to insufficient system capacity, ASTCA is proposing $550,000 to fund the much needed upgrades, erect more cell sites and enhance core switching mechanisms.
This will assist in improving coverage to increase customer satisfaction with service offering, according to ASTCA.
Also in the proposed budget ASTCA is seeking $85,500 for the Manu’a Development Initiative (MDI).
“The Administration as part of its corresponding economic development strategy, declared the Islands of Manu’a as the first to be slated for social and economic development.
“ASTCA has a public mandate and responsibilities to provide communication to customers and ASTCA has responded in-kind to build and erect communication infrastructure and its associated apparatus, where it's needed at Manu’a.”
The proposed budget points out that these costs are required to be noted, because they were not included in the previous budget. The proposed budget is to expand microwave capacity, erect additional towers, procure back-up digit switches and inverters and other components in support of the communication backbone system.
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